Norway in summer….. It’s clearing up! The Norseman experience. Part I

Two years in preparation bagged! 

Flying in you see the pretty tiny islands that are dotted all around and the water between them sparkles in the sunshine, little houses and bridges between islands make it resemble a Tolkenesk landscape. 
The bus driver says “welcome, it always rains here!” “But it’s sunny” we chuckled….. and so it was for most of the first two days, mountains and Fjords looking heavenly. We arrived in HardangerFjord/Eidfjord (race start point) a pretty little town with a slightly out of place but very good Thai food stall/take away. With costs in Norway being somewhat high, and with 3 people to accommodate I’d opted for staying in the low cost ‘tricamp’ … Otherwise known as a school hall! We were the first to arrive; quickly sussing out the lay of the land and how many people were eventually to squeeze into this hall; we set about making our own enclave! One half of my support crew was eying up the staging at the other end of the room and decided that the individual segments, if detached would make ideal ‘off the floor’ beds. 
Enclave complete we dined out on Thai food.
Various activities over the next two days ensued, we joined the organised events of ‘running up that hill’ (more like a mountain climb almost requiring belaying) but the views from the top we amazing and the social swim. Previously we had carried out our own swim round the buoy complete with a jump off the quay! Glad we did that as the day of the social swim there was a huge cruise ship dwarfing the little quayside. Along with these activities we registered, attended briefing, had another Thai meal and a local one and got very little sleep….. Yes sleeping was not going well! The first night we couldn’t work out how to turn the lights off (despite all three of us attempting it) and discovered that one half of the support crew snored! Contemplating what could be chucked at the snoring half of the support crew the other half dragged herself off to find somewhere else to sleep….. She found the disabled toilet! It was apparently bleached, dark and quiet. The hall was slowing filling up and the general air of anticipation and noise levels meant sleeping got no better. This was obviously not a good thing but we had to work with it; the night before the race meant pretty much no sleep at all!!
2am on 6th August 2016 took what seemed like an age to come, but forcing down the banana porridge made me want to turn back the clock! Quickly it was time to go and check everything into transition. Outside I realised the weather had taken a turn for the worse and the wind had picked up turning the glassy fjord into a choppy mess and the wind was blowing into the head current. Unlike races check in to transition was all done on the morning of the race with main checks being, working lights, suitable helmet and appropriate fluro jacket. Bike and kit racked we waited for the ferry. 
I was surprised and unnerved at how calm I had been feeling and still was, as the ferry pulled away; I wasn’t sure what to do with this calmness or whether it was a good thing or not! I was glad I wasn’t standing there trying to control my breathing or keep my heart rate down but couldn’t work out why, I was just about to jump off the back of a car ferry into cold water in the dark ffs!! Surely I should be at least a bit ruffled. But no…. The huge gaping mouth of the ferry opened at the back and everyone edged forward, a short wait and then you could hear shouts and splashes as people hit the water. The ramp sloped up so you had to balance on the top of it before you jumped. With over 100 people behind you there was little time to contemplate the black waves beneath and as soon as I saw a clear space I shut my eyes and launched myself! 
As I popped back to the surface my first thought was, “great! Step one complete”. My next thought was “where the hell now?” and “shit it’s lumpy!” I could see nothing other than a few yellow caps of other swimmers, so I followed in their direction. I don’t know how far away the start was from the ferry, maybe 200mtrs maybe more but I could already tell the swim wasn’t going to be that much fun, the chop and currents were pushing me about. I found the support kayaks and lined up with everyone, between them and as close to the fjord edge as I could get. We waited, bobbing about in the dark. People were still swimming over, the line was moving about quite a bit. Suddenly one of the Kayak crew shouted “2minutes”, I held my nerve and got ready to set off, thinking “don’t thrash, steady as she goes”. The hooter sounded and the washing machine of arms and legs commenced. I was surprised at how long I was amongst this and thought “great, I’m fairly comfy and keeping up with others” but then it stopped and I was completely on my own. I kept going, making sure I could see the fjord edge but all the time kept having to mentally manage my anxiety as people seemed to come from nowhere and then disappear again, and not always from behind, from the side and front. It was disorientating and I gave into anxiety a couple of times to stop and check where I was. I could feel the waves and current pushing me around and the swim felt long and became lonely. As the light came up I could see kayaks and boats but these made sighting more difficult. I stopped briefly to see the one buoy we had to round and find another sighting point to guide me as it kept disappearing behind waves or kayaks. As I came towards the exit I was trying hard to maintain my stroke with my left arm as it was tiring and starting to just flap about and not pull through fully, I knew I was slowing. I fell over as I got out and didn’t hear any of the crew that we shouting at me to come to them, long choppy swim drunken seasickness had got me a bit.
Getting lots of clothes on when you are wet isn’t easy… I don’t know how long we faffed about in T1 for but I needed to get quite a lot of kit on in an attempt to stay warm in the windy conditions. I set off feeling a little under par but not too bad and hoping legs would get going. The long climb up to the Hardangervidda Plateau took us into the old road avoiding some of the new main road and tunnels. The winter had been harsh apparently and the road was damaged and there had been a landslide at one point which meant we had to go back onto the main road and through one of the newer mountain tunnels. Before I got to this point my front light had disappeared somewhere, I only realised when I went into one of the old tunnels and thought that it seemed darker than before…  The cycle through the newer tunnel was long and noisy from the air vents which made it feel like you would be sucked out at any moment! The climb went on…
Feeling sick from swallowing water on the swim I was struggling to eat… I kept thinking “things will pick up” but as time went on I was getting colder and the wind and fog were increasing alongside the dropping temperature. I was aware that I felt woozy and kept trying to eat when my support crew shouted at me but I was feeling colder still and then the rain came. I had already had a slight change of clothes but another was needed. I stopped again and changed whilst eating, I didn’t feel strong and it was starting to eat at me, I thought of lots of things triathlon friends had said, just keep tapping away, think awesome … I was struggling, rain came harder, temperatures got colder and the wind was buffeting me about despite it being behind me. I stopped and then pushed on again a few times. 
As I went past the 60k mark ish with 1200m of climbing behind me I really started to feel like I was starting to lose function, I felt really woozy; not lack of energy but like I was dropping off to sleep. As the descents started in the pouring rain and strong wind I had a sense of not being in control, like you feel when you are mildly drunk, I was so cold my right hand had absolutely no feeling and my arms felt like they weren’t going to be able to hold me up. My focus had gone, I was struggling to see and keep alert enough to know where the road was and what I needed to do with my bike to stay on the road. With big drops off the edge of the roads and cars coming towards me (one on my side of the road) I suddenly felt very vulnerable. My left side had stopped playing. The last descent was nothing short of petrifying, I had little control and it was all I could do to get down safely…..I felt sick for a whole other reason.
As I stopped at the van my support shouted that Norseman Crew had texted to say athletes could get into support vehicles to change, my bike was taken off me and I was directed into the van. I was soaked through and without going into details, didn’t feel in control of my body any longer. My coach and I talked through the position I was in, or rather she explained what she was looking at and asked me to make a decision. I’m not the best at decision making especially when I think I know what the sensible option is but it’s not the option my heart wants to go for – I stalled…. I was asked again, plus a third time. All I could think was, “I can barely keep control of things just sitting here, how can I carry on and not have a disastrous outcome?” 
“I’ll withdraw” I heard myself say… Gutting and at the first sign of empathy/sympathy the tears came! I suddenly thought of all the time others had invested in me and what a disastrous day I’d had, letting them all down. Shit!! What had I been thinking!??
I moved my body to the nearest toilet once I had got dry clothes on … The first contact with the outside turned on my shivering again, which was completely uncontrollable once it got going. Hot chocolates warmed me up and driving through the field saw lots of people struggling, I felt weird. This had not been in the plan….. 

Norseman

6 days and counting! Ready as I’ll ever be (and I’ve painted my toe nails), have swat team on board inc one woman of steel and a Royal Marine! Have been through event (not calling it a race) a million times in my head (in there it goes quite quickly and there’s very little pain), bags are packed…… This teeny tiny wonky person is heading to Viking land!! Cue Kirk Douglas…… 

Slateman

Long journey to fablous Welsh Wales and a late afternoon check in with a perusal of the sodden transition area! The whole area is stunning and the drive in had taken me over part of the bike route – the Llanberis Pass. Lakes and rocks, all I wanted to do was take photos….

After months of training this was a stepping stone training race, so just here to go through the motions. 1k cold swim, 51k hilly bike and 11k very steep run. 
 The next morning the wind had dropped and the sky looked promisingly blue with white fluffy clouds. I made my way down to the race area in Llanberis and found my spot. I knew the bike might be chilly but didn’t want to spend too long putting on clothing so opted for a base layer and gilet. Once everything was in its place I took my bag back to the van as no boxes or bags were allowed in transition! On reaching the van mountainous grey clouds appeared from nowhere and the heavens, quiet literally opened! I watched the monsoon like rain from the van whilst pondering whether I’d bother to put on any of my now saturated bike kit 😒

It continued to rain as we stood in transition amoungst our soggy kit listening to the briefing…….. The full swim in the cold lake was on! At 12.5 degrees this sounded positively balmy to me having swum throughout the winter in the sea, so I was a bit surprised to hear the organisers whooping about the fact that we could do the whole 1k swim and it wouldn’t have to be shortened. 

I somehow was in the elite womens start wave…… At first I had felt a little concerned about this as I’m way off elite and bemused at how I’d been put in that wave but on further consideration I figured they would all zoom off and I’d be left with some nice open water. Wrong! Women who had done the sprint the day before (and consequently named Savage Women as they were doing the full race the day after too) were in this wave and not all elite, it would seem! I literally had to beat off one savage woman who despite having loads of space round her, and me having stopped and swapped sides, continually weaved her way back and forth across me……… It was like she had a bungee line attached to me!! I looked up sighted the turn bouy and picked a new line.

  There was a 400m ish run to T1 and I put on the bear minimum of my soggy kit. Consequently after the climb up to the top of the pass I was freezing on the fast descent and most of the rest of the bike. However, this didn’t take away too much from a fantastic bike course which had lots of variation and stunning scenery! Loved it but would have been better warmer, and without my one slightly collapsed T bar and gears that jammed in the big chain ring. 

  
Happy with my ride, I squelched into T2.

I had heard the run leg was arduous but it really was; after an initial decent it just went up and up on slippy slate, the views down into the quarry were amazing but on it went and with every hairpin bend you hoped you’d reached the top but no, another accent stretched out before you. 

  
By now the sun had come out and everyone was gently steaming. The top of the quarry eventually appeared and legs, now getting a little leaden found it tricky to descend. However, they soon got in the swing of it ……… a little too much for some and the steep, slippy and rocky paths took out a few people! I backed off after watching one guy go flying, this was a training race after all and I didn’t want an injury at this stage!!

  
The route flattened out and I was happy I still felt reasonably strong. One more step towards Norseman done! 

  

Update….. 

Thought I’d update this but not really felt like writing or being too ‘out there’ since a personal upset in late November…..still don’t really but…..

I’ve put all my focus into training, which is going fairly well I think. Strength and Conditioning seems to be starting to pay dividends and maintaining cold water swims has boosted the confidence that I can do the distance even if the temp of the water is only 10 degrees.

  
   
Biking got me this week; a windy (head on) hilly course with climbs sometimes 12% plus and I realised the 25k 8-10% climb at the start of Norseman is gonna take it out of my legs if I don’t reconsider my bike set up so this is now going into experimentation…. Need to test out the doubts before the day so that the plan is rock solid!

I have a great team around me including the two support crew that will be coming with me; Coach and Royal Marine friend…… 

Well short but sweet for now ….. Pushing on through the cold…..

Norseman!!!!! 

So I’m in! My plan for something to replace my lost chance in Rio has come together.. and if I ignore the underlying fear, I think I’m going to feel more satisfied with this outcome.

It’s a unique opportunity to push myself beyond my limits, to really challenge my body to do as it’s asked, it’s a mind game for me more so than others because I need to factor in the concentration required to get my left side to join in the party…… 

I’ll make it!

155 mile Charity Triathlon 

A year in the planning and I was desperate to get this thing done just so I could stop thinking about it… It’s goal was to help one injured soldier with his recovery and raise funds and awareness of brain injury via services charities and Brain Injury Rehabilitation Trust. Tick! But I’ll just talk about the triathlon.

I know it wasn’t an Ironman but the run distances were greater and I had to be a bit careful with the injured Soldier. So it was spread over three days with a contingency day.

The idea was to represent each of the services by swimming at Royal Navy HQ, cycling (our version of flying) to RAF HQ and running to Land HQ. The swim was to be only 1k as the injured Soldier had only recently started swimming and couldn’t be in cold water for too long due to potential seizure. We were extremely lucky with the weather and although cold the water was calm and the sun was out Soldier struggled a bit but made it! I could have happily kept swimming on but it was bike time.


The cycle was hilly with some steep long hills too, but it stayed bright and wind was minimal so the cycle went without much incident, not even a puncture! It was the longest single ride I had done and saddle pressure and sore shoulders were the worse problems…. Nutrition worked well and was perfected in the coming days (see below for what was used). We reached RAF Command at the top of a hill well before dark!

Run time was daunting with 60 ish miles to cover… I had originally planned 3x 20 miles bit we already had it in our heads to push on to do 2x 30miles. It was a lovely day and we quickly decided that we would just keep going till we ran out of time or light or legs. It was hilly and warm, at 10 miles in the Garmin sent us off up a steep hill only to tell us at the top that we were off course! We had stupidly decided not to carry phones as the support vehicle would just regularly leap frog us but we were now off course with the Garmin battery low and no easy way of contacting the van. Long story short, the general public helped, we sent messages around to say where we were and eventually that got back to the van … Disaster was averted! But an 8 mile detour had been clocked up!!! We got back to where we went wrong and cracked on thinking we’d add the 8 miles on a the end to get the next days start point fairly marked. At 26miles we were slowing and starting to seize up but we pushed on for 30miles, discussing if 34 were possible so as to ‘only’ leave a marathon the next day! At 30miles we couldn’t run, legs were seizing up, feet hurting but we decided to walk four more miles which we did.

Eating, massaging etc ensued worried we would find the next day long… But strangely the next day although sore, the legs still functioned (toes were complaining) and as we drove to the start we realised how far we had done! Setting off again we marched it out to warm up but fairly quickly were able to start doing short runs then marching again. Suddenly I found a half run half shuffle that I could keep going and was faster than walking… We were making great time but at 20miles the support vehicle announced that somehow our calculations were wrong and there were at least 8, if not 9 more miles to do. A bit disheartening but although hot spots of soreness were now causing pain with each step we could keep up a pace.Once we reached 26 miles in 6 hrs and saw a sign for Andover I found some ‘end game legs’ and my clockwork shuffle reverted to running. Again as we reached the town the Garmin was difficult to read and we lost the van as it was sent round a one way system… Slightly anxious we kept going and suddenly saw a sign for Land HQ….60 plus miles on we reach destination and were pretty amazed at what we had been able to do that last day!


I had been practicing nutrition since my disasterous half but I think I’ve perfected it drink regularly on the bike with food every hour. Regular (every 20 mins or so) eating and drinking on the run in small amounts. Porridge pot or two for breakfast.

High 5 with small amounts of cola when I felt like it to drink.

Started with one power bar eaten over the course of the first hour on the run or at the end of first hour on the bike. 

Then one slice of white bread with either peanut butter or Turkey slices depending on what I felt like interspersed with Jaffa cakes and sweets. 

That was pretty much it..  Kept me going and didn’t upset my stomach.

Iron distance event is now in my sights for 2016…. Which shall it be!

Moor 2 Sea Sportive

It’s all about the bike… so coach said….. “Get out cycling Dartmoor more, it’s tough and will prime you for what’s ahead… Build, I want you cycling the 100 mile Dartmoor classic in 2016! It’s hell! I was a mess when I finished and crying on the floor.. ”

So having sold it to me in such positive terms I set off this morning on my first ‘Sportive’ across Dartmoor just 65 miles on this occasion, for Dartmoor the weather was good… Ish! It’s bleak Dartmoor and windy, on a bike it’s very bleak, very hilly and very windy = tough work. It’s was weird only doing a bike race, so much less kit to worry about… Except I kept worrying because I had so little kit! 

A heavily tattooed, bearded, handsome guy from Newquay was having a laugh at the start… Smiling, the mood was set! Not enough women taking part but some great fun, good humoured banter with the blokes! 

First section was fast along the coast, lulled into a false sense of security the moors were ahead.

The ‘king of the mountain’ stage was the 3 mile Tour of Britian climb up to Haytor. It goes on forever and just when you think you’ve finished, the Tor looms ahead and the climb next to it… I tried my best but fell a few minutes short of the qualifying time. 😦 disappointed having done recent Alp climbs but somehow these hills on Dartmoor are tougher; the gradients steeper maybe even if the climbs aren’t as long. 


I lost one of my drinks bottles early on so had to make one more feed station stop than I’d planned… But the Jaffa cakes here were welcome.., hill after windy hill hit you like a brick wall, some so steep you daren’t look up, legs raging, mouth swearing (I do swear my way up climbs… I can’t help it, I’m not a sweary person but at this time it just happens). At a point where thoughts of laying down at the side of the road and calling the assistance number were creeping into the mind, the moors opened up properly and all you could see was undulating road for miles… It looked hellish but the speed picked up! With renewed momentum I found myself chicking a few guys! At the top of a long climb passing people stopping, walking ( laying down) I took a look at the map… With delight I was at the 55 mile mark!! But knew there were some killer climbs at the end. A group of us set off again… My legs perked up again and speed picked up. Then the last climbs, three steep long ones, one after the other… It’s was gritted teeth stuff but I did it and finished fine! 5:31 with stoppage time 5:08 on the Garmin and a bronze medal! I’ll take that for my first proper Dartmoor outing!

A guy at the pasty counter said ” that was brutal wasn’t it?” “Not easy” I said “but I’ve got the classic for next year” “Your nuts” he said 😬

So points to take forward:

I am trying to stay within lactic threshold on the bike (that means staying below 150 HR) but this is proving difficult on climbs and I need to be doing climbs so more technique and climbing practice needed.

I definitely don’t need caffeine in my nutrition plan, have gone without this time and stomach was fine. Although couple of cokes here and there wouldn’t have gone a miss and from time in the Alps this has a positive boost rather than negative stomach effect. I think the gels and sports drinks have too much caffeine for me.

Jaffa cakes are great!! 😄👍🏼